Washington, DC – Following numerous discussions among Western U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo,) with Administration leadership and agency officials, initial federal funding to begin fixing shortages in fire-fighting efforts known as “fire borrowing” is now being included in hurricane disaster budget recommendations.
Wyden, Merkley, Crapo, Risch, Bennet, and other Western senators have pushed for a fire borrowing fix in the first spending bill possible. While not a permanent fix, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is recommending funding to replace the more than $570 million transferred away this season from forest restoration accounts to fight a record fire season.
”Because the need for this funding arises from unforeseen, unanticipated events, additional resources for the U.S. Forest Service should be provided as emergency funding,” Mulvaney wrote in a letter to leadership in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. “The Administration believes that the problem of wildfire “borrowing” must be addressed in a more structured, long-term manner,” Mulvaney said.
Wyden, Merkley, Crapo, Risch and Bennet have reintroduced legislation over several years to address how fighting record fires steers needed funds away from restoration budgets and creates a cycle of destruction because federal lands go untreated when funds are diverted to fight fires. In addition to their stand-alone legislation, Crapo, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, included wildfire language in a bill to reauthorize the national flood insurance program.
“Wildfires burning across the West in another record-breaking fire year make these funds all the more urgent,” Wyden said. “This disaster funding will help our communities recover from the devastation of the West’s natural disasters now, and our bipartisan group of senators is not going to let up when it comes to pushing for our solution to end fire borrowing and stop the erosion of the Forest Service’s budget. It’s a good sign the administration agrees that the broken system of wildfire funding is a long-term problem that needs a long-term solution.”
“Every stride forward to end fire borrowing is a good day for our forested states,” said Merkley. “But let’s not stop there. We need funds to thin our forests so they are less likely to burn, and funds to help our communities recover from this year’s devastating fires.”
OMB Director Mulvaney’s recommendations come before the next disaster supplemental appropriations bill that Congress will consider this fall to aid in hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. Wyden, Crapo, Risch, and Bennet note that similar natural disasters have also plagued Western states through massive fires on public lands.